Unauthorized Immigrants Fear Trump Presidency

By Brenda Flanagan

“I’m crying. I’m crying.”

Anna’s an unauthorized immigrant from Brazil, but her two kids are American born. The presidential campaign — and Donald Trump’s election — filled the New Jersey family with dread, particularly 11-year-old Gabriel and 6-year-old Cindy.

“For me, it’s two nights, I’m not sleeping because my kids are stressed, talk all the time about, ‘Trump he come! Trump he come! Trump he come!’” Anna said.

Anna cleans houses part-time. Her husband drives a truck. She says they overstayed tourist visas in 2004 and dreamed of a path to citizenship. Now, they’re not so sure. The president-elect’s fiery anti-immigration rhetoric offers no amnesty.

“Anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and go back to the country from which they came,” Trump said.

“I’m worried, if — since me and my sister are American — we might get, if Mom and Dad get deported, we might stay here alone,” Gabriel said.

“We’ve gotten a lot more phone calls today,” said Nicole Miller, legal services director at American Friends Service Committee.

What are people telling her?

“They’re terrified. They’re terrified,” she said.

Advocacy groups say clients also fear Trump’s vow to reverse President Obama’s executive orders that shield unauthorized immigrants from deportation. New Jersey — at Gov. Chris Christie’s direction — had joined a national lawsuit to fight the president, but that could become moot.

“They really think that when President Trump takes office, that he’s going to make good on his threats to deport millions of people. And they’re terrified that their family’s going to be ripped apart,” Miller said.

“My little sister — who’s a U.S. citizen — is she going to be left here, by herself?” asked Giancarlo Tello.

So-called DREAMer Tello watched returns roll in on election night and saw mounting panic on Facebook, with posts like, “Stop telling people they’ll be OK. There are a lot of people in this country that Donald Trump, himself, has promised won’t be OK.” The Rutgers grad is now studying engineering at Rowan University. But he no longer feels protected by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order.

What was Tello’s reaction?

“Crying. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Are we still going to be allowed to work? What does the future hold for us?” he asked.

“You know, Obama was more pro-immigrant. And so we got spoiled. And now, we just have to work harder. And it’s not going to be any easier,” said immigration attorney Cesar Martin Estela.

But Estela has a plan.

“My goal is to make as many people citizens as I can in the next four years and have my own little citizenship drive, out of my office,” he said.

“As a minority community, we are going to be able to come together and defend ourselves,” Tello said.

For people like Anna and her children, the stakes are high.

“Here, the life for my kids. Here, have school, have friends,” she said.

It’s unclear precisely what the president-elect intends to do — build the wall, focus on immigrants with criminal records. For now, unauthorized immigrants looking for citizenship may also be looking over their shoulders.